The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 38

A gentleman is gullible because of his righteous conduct.

Gradually, the noise around the field died down. The old monk from Damo Hall who sat behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “We have agreed to the rules set by the heroes to govern our martial art competition today. Saber and spear, fists and legs, do not have eyes. Death will not be discussed further, alive and well will be the Heaven’s fate. Whichever school, sect, clan or society has the strongest martial art, will have control over Xie Xun and the Tulong Saber.”

Zhang Wuji frowned slightly. He thought, “It seems like this monk is afraid the battle will not be fierce enough, the enmity among schools will not be deep enough. Don’t they have mercy as displayed by Shen Seng like Kong Jian and Kong Wen anymore?”

The crowd further agreed that as soon as one had defeated two opponents in a row, one must be given an opportunity to rest. Other than that, there was not much difference than the previously agreed rule.

Immediately some people went down the field and called out their challenges, which were answered at once. A moment later, there were six people fighting in three pairs.

Zhao Min had learned the essence of each unique skill belonging to the Six Major Sects’ masters when she detained them in the Wan An Temple. Although her comprehension was still shallow, her knowledge and experience were not ordinary at all. Standing in between Zhang Wuji and Fan Yao, they discussed the martial arts of those six people. She made predictions on who would win and who would lose. Surprisingly, her analysis was very clear and logical.

About the time needed to drink a cup of tea later, among the three pairs, two had reached conclusion, and only one pair was still engaged in a fierce battle. Two more people immediately went down the field to challenge the victors. Hence, it was still six people fought in three pairs. The newcomers were using weapons, so their opponents also unsheathed their weapons. As the competition proceeded this way, it was only natural that eight or nine fights out of ten were decided with some shedding of blood.

Zhang Wuji mused, “This way, the friendship between each clan and sect will definitely suffer some damage. As soon as one school defeats another, although nobody loses his life or suffer injury, the loser will unavoidably try to retaliate in the future. I will be greatly surprised if this event will not breed an enormous disaster in which everybody kills each other.”

In the meantime, the Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s palm hacked down on the short elder of Huashan Pai that the latter spurted blood from his mouth. The tall elder of Huashan Pai cursed, “Stinky Beggar! Rotten Beggar!” while jumping out to challenge the Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao.

The short elder quickly grabbed his arm and said in low voice, “Shidi [younger martial brother], you are not his match. We’ll have to swallow this defeat for the time being.”

The tall elder angrily said, “I don’t care, I must fight him!” Although his mouth said those words, deep down in his heart he realized that his Shixiong’s [martial brother] martial art skill was comparable to his own; their energy cultivation was identical. If Shixiong was beaten, then he had no chance of victory. As he was being pulled by his senior, his mouth did not stop shouting abusive words, but his feet actually moved toward their wooden shelter.

After that, Zhi Fa Zhanglao scored another victory over the Sect Leader of the ‘Mei Hua Dao’ [Plum Blossom Blade]. Since he had defeated two people in a row, amidst the thunderous applause from the Beggar Clan crowd, he returned to their shelter, feeling very pleased with himself.

And thus, one come the other go, the competition in the field had been going on for more than four hours. The red glowing sun was slowly moving to the west. The martial art skill of the people going down into the battle was increasingly higher. At first, a lot of people were having lofty aspirations; their hearts were filled with desire to show off their skills in this general assembly of the world heroes. However after seeing other people’s martial art skills, and only then did they realize that they were no more than a frog in the well. Without ascending the Mount Tai, one would not know the vastness of the earth. Therefore, they did not dare to enter the competition.

By the ninth hour (between 3 to 5 pm), the Beggar Clan’s Zhang Bo Longtou entered the arena to challenge Peng Siniang [fourth lady Peng] of Xiang Si Pai Jiao [lit. ‘Four-Row Cult’(?) of Hunan province], which he struck until she tumbled down. The clothes on Siniang’s back were torn. It was such a big tear that she withdrew from the fight in her embarrassment.

Zhang Bo Longtou turned his eyes toward the Emei Pai people and with a cold laugh said, “What kind of real ability can womenfolk have? If they do not depend on their sharp weapons, then they would depend on strange secret projectiles. This lady Peng Siniang is able to train to this level, it truly is not easy.”

Zhou Zhiruo spoke in low voice to Song Qingshu. Song Qingshu nodded, and then unhurriedly went down the arena. He cupped his fists to Zhang Bo Longtou and said, “Longtou Dage; let me receive pointers from your masterful strikes.”

Zhang Bo Longtou was furious to see Song Qingshu. “The one surnamed Song,” he angrily shouted, “You are in collusion with that traitor Chen Youliang in penetrating our Beggar Clan. You, the traitor, must have played a part in the death of our Shi Bangzhu. Do you still have a face to see me today?”

Song Qingshu coldly replied, “Penetrating the enemy’s nest and stealing secrets are common occurrences in Jianghu. You only have your own bunch of blind beggars to blame that you failed to see Song Daye’s [‘big master’ Song] true identity.”

Zhang Bo Longtou cursed, “You are capable of betraying your own old man’s Wudang Pai; you are capable of doing anything. You are not being filial to your father, later you will not be faithful to your wife. Emei Pai will certainly meet its destruction in your hands.”

Song Qingshu was so angry that his face turned pale. “Are you done farting?” he said.

Zhang Bo Longtou did not respond. With a loud grunt his palm hacked down. Song Qingshu turned around to evade. His hand lightly swept backhandedly, using Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ [lit. golden peak soft/supple palm] to parry the attack.

Zhang Bo Longtou was angry with Song Qingshu for penetrating the Beggar Clan and deceiving them, so his move was intended to kill; it was exceptionally fierce. Unfortunately, his opponent this time was not an ordinary martial artist. Within the Beggar Clan, Zhang Bo Longtou’s martial art skill was inferior only to their late Bangzhu, and Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa, two elders. His palm technique had reached an unordinary level.

Song Qingshu was chief among the Wudang Pai’s third generation disciples; but after all, his comprehension of Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ was not deep enough. He had not yet able to unleash the full potential of exquisite and subtle variations within the palm technique. After fighting for about forty, fifty stances, he repeatedly fell into dangerous situations. Automatically his ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ turned into Wudang Pai’s ‘Mian Zhang’ [cotton palm]. It was the martial art he was most familiar since his childhood. He had trained it for more than twenty years. He was able to launch this martial art at will; it was very powerful. The outward appearance was similar to Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’, but the method of transmitting energy to the moves was actually entirely different. The spectators did not know this fact. They only saw Song Qingshu gradually turned the situation over in his favor.

The more he watched, the angrier Yin Liting was. ‘Song Qingshu,” he called out, “You, the kid, have no shame at all! You have left Wudang, why do you still use Wudang skill to save your life? You betrayed your father, but why do you use the martial art your father taught you?”

Song Qingshu’s face turned red. “What’s so special about Wudang Pai’s martial art?” he called out, “Look carefully!” Suddenly his left hand turned into a hook in front of Zhang Bo Longtou’s eyes. Revolving to the left and turning to the right, he launched seven, eight different styles. In a surprise movement, his right hand thrust forward and ‘stab!’ His five fingers pierced Zhang Bo Longtou’s forehead.

The spectators were stunned. They only see Song Qingshu’s fingers dripping with blood, while Zhang Bo Longtou fell backwards. It was obvious that he was dead.

With a cold laugh Song Qingshu said, “Does Wudang Pai have this kind of martial art?”

The crowd of heroes called out in alarm. Eight people from the Beggar Clan rushed forward. Two quickly grabbed Zhang Bo Longtou’s body, while the other six attacked Song Qingshu. These six were Beggar Clan’s masters; among them, four were brandishing their weapons, so that in a short moment Song Qingshu was surrounded by dangers.

A big and fat monk behind Reverend Kong Zhi loudly shouted, “The Beggar Clan’s gentlemen take advantage of a solitary man; aren’t you breaching today’s heroes assembly rule?”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao called out, “Brothers, get back. Let me avenge Zhang Bo Longtou.”

The Beggar Clan disciples leaped backward. They took Zhang Bo Longtou’s body back to their wooden shelter. With angry look on their faces, they stared at Song Qingshu menacingly.

The heroes watching on the side thought, “Although it was agreed that in this martial art competition death is not a big deal, but this surname Song’s hands are too heavy and ruthless.”

At this moment, Zhang Wuji was recalling the injury on Zhao Min’s shoulder, which was from a five-finger claw; and then that night at the thatched hut, the way Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang’s corpses lying on the floor. With a trembling voice he asked, “Yang Zuo Shi, where did Emei Pai get this evil martial art from?”

Yang Xiao shook his head. “Subordinate has never seen this kind or martial art,” he said, “However, Emei Pai’s founder Guo Nuxia was known as ‘Xiao Dong Xie’ [young eastern heretic] so I wouldn’t be surprised if 30% of her martial art skill was heretical.”

While the two of them were talking, Song Qingshu has started fighting Zhi Fa Zhanglao. Zhi Fa Zhanglao was a thin and small man, and extremely agile. His ten fingers were like a hook or an awl, attacking Song Qingshu with ‘mo zhua gong’ [devil claw skill]. It looked like he was very adept in using his fingers, and wanted to poke five holes on top of Song Qingshu’s head to avenge Zhang Bo Longtou’s death.

At first, Song Qingshu was still using the ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ to parry the opponent. After fighting for a while, Zhi Fa Zhanglao roared, “Little dog thief!” The five fingers of his left hand had already touched Song Qingshu’s forehead. Just a little bit more strength, the fingers would have pierced Song Qingshu. Song Qingshu stretched out his right hand, and ‘stab!’ his five fingers entered Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s throat. Zhi Fa Zhanglao fell forward. His left hand had not lost its strength that it penetrated the surface of the earth. Blood spread out on the ground. He stopped breathing at once.

Zhou Zhiruo made a signal with her hand. Eight Emei Pai female disciples, each with a sword in her hand, jumped forward and with two on each side, they stood with their backs facing in, on the front, rear, left and right, around Song Qingshu. There would be a chaotic battle if the Beggar Clan people rushed forward to attack again.

With a loud and clear voice, one of the old monks of Damo Hall said, “Luohan Hall’s thirty-six disciples, obey the order!” His palms clapped three times, thirty six Shaolin monks wearing yellow robes came out. Eighteen of them held Buddhist staves, while the other eighteen brandished sabers. They quickly spread out around the field. They stood in what looked like a formation, yet it was not exactly a formation. However, all strategic places were guarded.

The old monk said, “Receive Kong Zhi Shishu’s [martial (younger) uncle] order: the thirty six Luohan Hall disciples are to enforce the great hero assembly’s rules. If there are some people who rely on number to bully an individual, they are to be treated as Wulin world’s public enemy. We, Shaolin Temple, must not shame ourselves as the host. We must maintain the justice. Thirty six disciples to look carefully; regardless who break the rules, kill him on the spot. Do not show any mercy.”

The thirty six disciples loudly voiced their compliance. With ferocious stare they fixed their gaze to the center of the field. With the Emei Pai guarding Song Qingshu, and Shaolin Pai guarding on the side, the Beggar Clan disciples did not dare to make any rash moves even though they were grieved and furious. They only shouted and cursed while taking Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s body back to their shelter.

“Ku Dashi,” in a low voice Zhao Min said to Fan Yao, “I didn’t expect Emei Pai still have this deadly stance. At the Wan An Temple, Mie Jue Shitai would rather die than showing off her martial art. Perhaps this is the reason.”

Fan Yao shook his head without saying anything. He was deep in thought to find a way to break this particular stance. After staring blankly for half a day, he suddenly approached Zhang Wuji.

“Jiaozhu,” he said, “Subordinate wants to consult with you a martial art stance.” With his palms pressed on the table, he stretched out his left hand index finger, and then his right hand index finger, one after another. With an incredible nimbleness he moved the fingers continuously seven times. And then with a low voice said, “My arms will attack successively this way. I only need to coil around this boy’s arm, and exert my internal energy to break his arm joint. With a broken arm, even if his fingers were fiercer, he would not be able to execute his move.”

Zhang Wuji also moved around his fingers on the table. Left hooked, right lifted. “Be careful not to let his fingers pierce your arms,” he said.

Fan Yao nodded his agreement. He said, “I will use ‘qin na shou’ [grab and seize, grappling technique] to grab his wrist, and then ‘shiba lu yuanyang lian huan tui’ [eighteen way/method mandarin ducks chain legs (continuous kicking)] to kick the lower part of his body].”

Zhang Wuji said, “Attack him ferociously with eighty one stances, don’t give him any opportunity to take a breather.”

These two people’s four fingers moved backward and forward, attacked and defended with exceptional speed. Fan Yao suddenly smiled, “Jiaozhu’s attacks are too marvelous. I don’t think this boy has this kind of power. His martial art is limited. He won’t be able to unleash the full potential of these several stances.”

Zhang Wuji also showed a faint smile and said, “If he cannot unleash the full potential of these three stances, then Fan You Shi, you have already won.” His left index finger made two circles, right index fingers suddenly thrust out from within the circles and hooked Fan Yao’s finger. He smiled slightly without saying anything.

Fan Yao was startled. “Many thanks for Jiaozhu’s directions,” he delightedly said, “The admiration of your subordinate reaches the highest level. These four stances are unthinkable. They truly enlightened subordinate’s dark mind. I really wish I could bow to you and take you as my master.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “These are part of Taijiquan technique bestowed to me by my Tai Shifu, the ‘luan huan jue’ [secret of the random circles]. The main point is the circles made by the left hand. Although this man surnamed Song came from Wudang, I don’t think he has mastery over the most refined of these principles.”

With this new idea in his mind, Fan Yao was confident he could defeat Song Qingshu. However, after two streak victories, Song Qingshu was entitled to take a rest according to the competition rules. Therefore, Fan Yao must wait for him to reenter the stage before he could come forward and challenge him.

All this time Zhao Min was standing close to them. With a faint smile on her face, she looks extremely delighted. Zhang Wuji shifted to get closer to her and asked in low voice, “Min Mei, what is it? Why do you look so happy?”

Zhao Min’s jade-like cheeks blushed. Hanging her head low, she whispered, “You taught Fan You Shi these several martial art techniques only to break Song Qingshu’s arm. Why didn’t you teach him something to take the life of that person surnamed Song?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Although Song Qingshu has done much evil, he is, after all, my Da Shibo’s [first martial (older) uncle] only beloved child. It will be up to Da Shibo to discipline him. If I told Fan You Shi to take his life, I would have been unfair to Da Shibo.”

Zhao Min said with a laugh, “If you have him killed, Zhou Jia Jiejie [older sister from Zhou family] would become a widow. Then you can rekindle the old flame. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?”

Zhang Wuji laughed. “Would you allow me to do that?” he asked.

Zhao Min smiled and replied, “I wouldn’t think of not allowing you. I’ll just wait till you turn double-minded again [orig. ‘san xin liang yi’ – three hearts, two intentions], then she’d use her fingers to poke five holes on your chest.”

While Zhang Wuji was discussing counterattack measure with Fan Yao, and talking and joking with Zhao Min, Song Qingshu had retreated to his wooden shelter under the protection of the eight Emei female disciples. The crowd of heroes saw how hair-raising and ruthlessly he killed his two opponents just now. They could not help but feeling frightened; they were not willing to go down the arena and thus subjected themselves to the danger.

A moment later, in a leisure manner Song Qingshu returned to the arena. Cupping his fists he said, “I [orig. zai4xia4 – under] have had enough rest. I am ready to take any hero who would like to give me some instructions.”

Fan Yao called out, “Let me ask for some advice from Emei Pai’s marvelous skill.” He was just about to jump into the arena when suddenly a grey shadow flashed by and stopped right in front of Song Qingshu. He turned toward Fan Yao and said, “Fan Dashi, please let me try first.” This person’s manner was very dignified. He stood with his feet sturdily grounded. His attitude was guarded. He was the Wudang Er Xia [second hero], Yu Lianzhou.

Seeing that Yu Lianzhou rushed over, and realizing he was Jiaozhu’s martial uncle, Fan Yao felt it was inappropriate to argue with him. He said, “The Ol’ Fan is lucky today to be able to see Yu Er Xia’s Wudang divine skill.”

“I do not dare,” Yu Lianzhou replied.

Since he was little, Song Qingshu had always a bit scared of this particular Shishu. Right now, seeing him with an imposing aura and stern look, he knew today’s battle was no longer a sparring while he was training on Mount Wudang, but it would be a life and death combat. Although he had learned amazing martial art from a different school, he still cowered in the end.

Yu Lianzhou cupped his fists and said, “Song Shaoxia [young hero], please!” This salute, and also the way he addressed Song Qingshu, showed clearly that he did not dare to show the slightest degree of contempt toward Song Qingshu, but also showed that he considered Song Qingshu as a total outsider.

Song Qingshu did not say anything. He simply bowed in respect. Yu Lianzhou shouted and his palm hacked down on Sing Qingshu’s face.

Yu Lianzhou had been famous in the Wulin world for the last thirty years or so, but the number of people who had actually seen him displaying his true capability was actually very few. Until today, when they saw him with soft power in his palms he rendered the strong, ruthless, explosive power of the ‘pi li lei huo dan’ [thunderbolt bullet] useless. His skill was so refined that the spectators felt ashamed of their own inadequacy. The Jianghu people had known for some time that the essence of Wudang Pai’s martial art was ‘soft subduing hard’, the style was slow moving but also very rich with subtle changes. Who would have thought that Yu Lianzhou’s palms stormed like the wind, his style was amazingly swift, that Song Qingshu’s lower part, between his legs and his waist, was successively hit by a kick and a palm.

Song Qingshu was very shocked. “Tai Shifu and Father both prepared me to be the Wudang Pai’s third generation Zhangmen [sect leader], they would not hold any martial art secret from me. Yu Ershu’s [second uncle] swift fist and quick leg were in the style I had already learned, but how could he launch the stances with such a speed? Didn’t the way he use it is contrary to our school’s main principle? Whatever it is, the result is this fierce!”

He wanted to use the finger skill Zhou Zhiruo taught him, but Yu Lianzhou did not give him even a chance to catch his breath. Thereupon he had no choice but kept stepping back and did his best to hold his position.

The crowd of heroes watched the fight between these two men with rapt attention. Presently, Yu Lianzhou was gaining an upper hand. However, in the two previous battles, Song Qingshu was also at a disadvantage before he was able to turn defeat into victory by stretching out his fingers and killing his opponents. He might be able to repeat it this time. They saw Yu Lianzhou moved faster and faster, but every style and every stance was very clear. It was just like an expert singer, although the singer sang a fast-tempo song, the enunciation of every syllable was very clear, without the slightest degree of fuzziness.

The crowd of heroes started to stand up one by one. Those who sat on the back climbed the tables and chairs. In their hearts, they were all praising, “Wudang’s Yu Er Xia truly deserves his reputation. He does not stop pressing his opponent, yet not a single stance was used twice.”

Lucky for Song Qingshu that he was a direct-line disciple of Wudang; he knew all the subtle changes of Yu Lianzhou’s hands and feet movements. However, fighting in such a pace was actually the first time for him.

The yellow dust on the field rose upward, becoming a thick fog enveloping these two men. Suddenly there was a loud bang as two palms collided. Both Yu Lianzhou and Song Qingshu leaped backward at the same time. The cloud of dust was divided. Before he was even standing firmly, with a monkey-like agility Yu Lianzhou had jumped forward again.

Yin Liting was concerned over his Shixiong’s safety. He could not help standing by the field with his hand on the hilt of his sword and his unblinking eyes trained on the battle in the field.

By now, Song Qingshu felt as if he was treading on the fine line between life and death. He fought with everything he had. He did not even think of using other school’s martial art any longer; all he could use was Wudang Pai martial art, which he trained since his childhood.

Yin Liting was very familiar with these two men’s punching and kicking style; he knew that each stance was meant to take the opponent’s life. Hence, his anxiety far surpassed of those who were merely spectators. Fortunately, he noticed that Yu Lianzhou gradually gained the upper hand. He would have hacked him dead early on if he did not guard against Song Qingshu’s malicious and ruthless five-finger piercing stance, hence being somewhat cautious.

Zhang Wuji was also quite worried. Secretly he grabbed two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his pocket. If Yu Lianzhou’s life will be in danger, he would disregard the general assembly’s rule by dashing out and save him.

The cloud of dust was growing higher. Suddenly Song Qingshu stretched out his left hand with his five fingers spread out to claw Yu Lianzhou’s right shoulder. For the last hundred stances or so, Yu Lianzhou had been waiting for Song Qingshu to launch this stance.

Yu Lianzhou had clearly seen the way Song Qingshu used his claw to kill the two elders of the Beggar Clan. If there were no previous fatal example, Yu Lianzhou would have been taken by surprise by this kind of fierce and killer stance. Although he might not die, but he would certainly be seriously injured. However, since he had seen this stance, he had prepared beforehand how to deal with it. On the other hand, Song Qingshu had not practiced this claw technique long enough; his movement did not have too many variations. His movement this time was almost the same to the previous ones.

Yu Lianzhou made a slight shoulder movement to evade. His left hand made several circles in the air.

“Ah!” Zhao Min and Fan Yao could not bear not to exclaim together, because Yu Lianzhou’s circles were exactly the ‘luan huan jue’ of Taijiquan Zhang Wuji taught Fan Yao earlier.

As Zhao Min and Fan Yao watched this, they knew Song Qingshu was in a very bad moment. Before their ‘ah!’ exclaim was even finished, the five fingers of Song Qingshu’s right hand had arrived at Yu Lianzhou’s throat.

Zhang Wuji was enraged. “He deserves to die! He deserves to die!” he muttered under his breath. The Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao lost his life under this claw. Unexpectedly Song Qingshu was brazen enough to use this malicious hand toward his own martial uncle.

But he saw that one of Yu Lianzhou’s arms made a circle, while the other arm revolved in the ‘zuan fan’ [drilling/boring movement] and ‘luo xuan’ [corkscrew turn] stances from the ‘liu he jin’ [six gathering strengths] style. Yu Lianzhou’s arms coiled around Song Qingshu’s arms. ‘Crack! Crack!’ Song Qingshu’s arm joints broke.

“Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] is avenged today!” Yu Lianzhou roared.

Joining his arms together, Yu Lianzhou continued striking both of Song Qingshu’s ears with the ‘shuang feng guan er’ [a pair of wind piercing the ears]. It was an attack where the ‘soft’ power was focused into one target. Song Qingshu’s skull disintegrated immediately. But before his body even fell to the ground, Yu Lianzhou gave him a powerful kick. Obviously, he wanted to finish Song Qingshu on the spot.

Suddenly a dark green shadow flashed by; a long whip threatened Yu Lianzhou’s face. Hastily he leaped back to evade. But with an unimaginable speed the long whip kept threatening his face. It was none other than the Emei Pai’s Sect Leader seeking revenge for her husband.

Yu Lianzhou hurriedly took three steps backward. Zhou Zhiruo’s whip technique was truly out of this world; in just three stances Yu Lianzhou was surrounded by the whip. Suddenly the flexible whip shook and coiled back. Zhou Zhiruo caught the tip of the whip with her left hand and coldly said, “If I take your life right now, you will be dissatisfied. Unsheathe your weapon!”

‘Shua!’ Yin Liting drew his sword out. He stepped forward and said, “Let me receive Miss Zhou’s instruction.”

Zhou Zhiruo stared at him with cold eyes; she turned around to look at Song Qingshu’s injury. His eyes were closed, blood flowed out from is seven orifices, he laid down on the ground, paralyzed. It looked like his life could not be saved. Three male disciples from Emei Pai rushed forward and took him back to their shelter.

Zhou Zhiruo turned back and pointed at Yu Lianzhou and said, “I’ll kill you first. Killing the one surnamed Yin later will not be too late.”

Yu Lianzhou had exhausted his entire strength just now yet he was unable to escape from her whip’s encirclement. He was inwardly shocked. He loved his younger martial brother. He thought, “If I fight her, even though I might die under her whip, at least Liudi [sixth (younger) brother] would have a chance to see her whip technique. My only hope is that his chance of survival will be increased by several points.”

Reaching behind his back, he wanted to take over Yin Liting’s sword. Yin Liting also realized the mortal danger they were facing. Even with the two martial brothers’ level of martial art skills, the chance of them escaping her long whip’s strike seemed very remote. Both he and his Shixiong had the same intention; he also wanted to fight her first, so that Shixiong would have a chance to find the gist of her whip technique. Thereupon, he was unwilling to hand his sword over.

“Shige [martial (older) brother],” he said, “Let me have a go first.”

Yu Lianzhou turned his gaze to him. They had been training in the same school for dozens of years. They had a very close relationship with each other; as close as blood brothers. That moment, deep emotion surged up his breast; his thought flashed back and forth like lightning. He remembered Yu Daiyan was crippled, Zhang Cuishan killed himself, Mo Shenggu died a tragic death. From the Wudang Seven Heroes, only four left. It seemed like two more heroes would lost their lives in this place. Although Yin Liudi was strong in martial art, emotionally he was very weak. If he died first, Yin Liudi’s mind would take such a blow that he might be unable to fight an all out battle.

“If I died first,” he carefully considered, “Liudi would have to go through countless difficulties to avenge me, while he himself would not want to escape alive alone. In the end, the two of us, martial brothers, would unavoidably die together in vain. If he died first, I would have a chance to understand the essence of this woman’s whip technique, and then perhaps I could fight her with all I have and die together with her.” Thereupon he nodded and said, “Liudi, try to hold your ground as long as possible.”

Remembering his pregnant wife, Yang Buhui, Yin Liting could not help but taking a glance toward Yang Xiao and Zhang Wuji. But immediately he rebuked himself, “After I die, other people will certainly take a good care of Buhui and the child; why would I act like a weak woman by asking others to help?” Thereupon he raised his sword, his eyes focused on the sword, his mind cleared of other matters, his back straightened, his chest puffed out, his shoulder relaxed and his elbows hang loosely.

“Zhang Men Ren [sect leader], please grant your instructions!” he said. Although he was a lot older than Zhou Zhiruo, at this moment, Zhou Zhiruo was the Sect Leader of Emei Pai. He did not want to show the least bit of disrespect.

Noticing that Yin Liting was using the ‘Taijijian’ [Taiji Sword] to face the opponent; Yu Lianzhou knew that his sixth brother was prepared to unleash the full potential of their school’s most powerful skill to contend with the most powerful enemy. He slowly retreated from the arena.

“You may start!” Zhou Zhiruo said.

Yin Liting thought that the opponent’s movement was lightning fast. If he let her took the initiative, he might never be able to regain his momentum. Thereupon as his left foot took a step, he switched the sword to his left hand, and launched the ‘san huan tao yue’ [three rings around the moon]. This first stance was a mixture of truth and deceit; the sword in his left hand lunged toward the enemy, the blade flickered with rays of light, ‘swish, swish, swish’, the sword produced light swishing noise. The crowd of heroes broke into an earth-shattering applause.

Zhou Zhiruo turned her body sideways to evade; Yin Liting followed with ‘da kui xing’ [the Great Bear Constellation] and ‘yan zi chao shui’ [swallow hunts over the water]. His sword drew a big circle in the air, his right hand pierced straight forward, surprisingly, it also carried light ‘swish, swish, swish’ noise.

Zhou Zhiruo swung her slender waist like a pendulum, dodging the attacks one by one. “Yin Liu Xia,” she said, “I gave you three stances to repay your kindness on Mount Wudang in the old days.” As the last word came out of her mouth, the flexible whip in her hand shook like a cobra and struck directly into Yin Liting’s chest.

Yin Liting quickly evaded to the left; but the whip changed its course midway and curved toward him. Yin Liting countered with ‘feng bai he ye’ [the wind sweeps lotus leaves]. His sword pared down. The whip and the sword collided, creating a light scratching noise. Yin Liting felt a burning sensation on the palm of his hand; the sword nearly fell off.

He was greatly shocked. “I thought her stances were strange but her internal energy was in par with mine,” he mused, “Who would have thought that her internal energy is also strange beyond measures.” Refocusing his attention, he launched the Taiji Sword by creating random circles, generating an extremely tight defense around his body.

The flexible whip in Zhou Zhiruo’s hand was like a string of soft silk thread, like a weightless object. Her body flashed to the east and to the west, dashed forward and backward, yet the whip was always fluttering around Yin Liting.

Zhang Wuji’s amazement grew as he watched the battle. “The way she moves the whip is entirely different from Du E, Du Nan and Du Jie, three eminent monks.” At first, he thought that Emei Pai still had some heretical martial art that he was unaware of, but as he watched she move with demon-like agility, which differed greatly from Mie Jue Shitai’s movements, against his will, a vague feeling of fear crept into his heart.

Suddenly Fan Yao exclaimed, “She is a ghost, she is not a human!”

His words echoed what was in Zhang Wuji’s mind that he shivered involuntarily. If he were not in the field where the sun was still shining brightly and people were standing all around him he would have thought that Zhou Zhiruo had died and her ghost picked up a whip and fought with Yin Liting.

In all his life, he had seen countless of strange martial arts, but Zhou Zhiruo’s footwork and whip technique, which was like the wind blowing willow branch, or the water floating duckweed, was truly beyond anybody’s imagination. In that moment, he felt as if he was awakened from a nightmare and was shivering from fear, “Could it be that she practices some kind of demonic skill? Or she is being possessed by some monster?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s movements were strange, but Taiji Sword was developed from Zhang Sanfeng’s Taijiquan [Taiji fist], which he created in his later years. It was the pinnacle of the sword technique, which came from the culmination of his life-long comprehension of martial art theory. Yin Liting unleashed his entire strength and skill into his continuous sword movements. Although he was unable to injure the opponent, his defense was flawless, enough to hold his ground.

Suddenly, someone called out with a strange voice and strange intonation, “Aiyo! Song Qingshu is about to breathe his last. Zhou Da Zhangmen [great sect leader], if you don’t pay your last respect to your husband, you will considered a dishonorable widow!”

Everybody turned their eyes toward the voice. It was Zhou Dian. He knew that in their entire lives, Wudang disciples put great emphasis to the internal energy cultivation to control their breathing. In facing the enemy, they were like ‘the Mount Tai collapsed in front of their eyes, their countenances would not change; an elk hit their left ears, their eyes did not blink.’ So he intended to help Yin Liting by disrupting Zhou Zhiruo’s attention.

“Hey, hey, Miss Zhou Zhiruo of the Emei Pai,” he called again, “Your husband is about to die, he has some last words for you. He says he has three times seven, twenty-one, and four times seven, twenty-eight, illegitimate children outside. He wants that after he dies, you will take a good care of them, so that he won’t die with open eyes. Will you or will you not consent to his request?”

As the crowd of heroes heard him blabber such nonsense, some of them could not help but snicker. But Zhou Zhiruo acted as if she did not hear anything.

“Aiyo,” Zhou Dian called out, “It’s too bad! Miejue Lao Shitai, how have you, Senior, been doing? Long time no see. You, Senior, has never looked better. Your spirit must have possessed Miss Zhou; the way she plays this flexible whip is indeed very attractive!”

Suddenly, Zhou Zhiruo’s shadow flashed several ‘zhang’s backward. She lashed her long whip over her right shoulder. The tip of the whip curved up from the ground toward Zhou Dian’s face. Initially she was more than a dozen ‘zhang’s away from the Ming Cult’s thatched shelter, but just like a dragon swooping down from the sky, the flexible whip suddenly arrived at his face like an arrow.

Zhou Dian was happily blabbering with spittle coming out of his mouth. He did not expect in the middle of a fierce battle, Zhou Zhiruo was able to launch a sudden attack with her whip. As he was stunned, the long whip had already arrived at his face. Zhou Zhiruo did not even turn her head, but it was as if the back of her head grew a pair of eyes; the tip of the whip was pointing right on his nose.

As Zhou Zhiruo flung the long whip backward, two of her left-hand fingers repeatedly pierced toward Yin Liting. Within seven of such attacks, she had covered the entire vital acupoints on Yin Liting’s head, face and the front of his chest.

Yin Liting was unable to attack the opponent. He also could not turn back his sword to pare her arm. With no other choice, he launched the ‘feng dian tou’ [nodding phoenix] by bending his knees to dodge the attacks.

In the meantime, from the Ming Cult’s thatched shelter came a loud ‘bang!’ followed by a series of crashing noises. Turned out Yang Xiao, who was standing on the side, and had keen eyes and quick hands, hurled the wooden table in front of him to block Zhou Zhiruo’s whip. As the whip struck the table, wooden splinters flew all over the place. The teapots and teacups on the table were also thrown to all directions, splashing hot tea to numerous people around them.

As her attack missed, Zhou Zhiruo no longer paid Zhou Dian any attention. Her flexible whip coiled back and stormed toward Yin Liting.

Holding the hilt of a sword in his hand, Yu Lianzhou had been standing on the side. But after watching for half an afternoon, he still could not predict the essence of her whip technique. “Even if I have to fight, in Taiji Sword technique I am not any better than Liudi [sixth younger brother]. But if the fight is prolonged, this woman’s internal energy might be insufficient, and then relying on our resilience, we might score a victory.”

He saw Yin Liting’s sword going back and forth, opening and closing, the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ elements intertwined with each other. Yin Liting was unleashing the instructions given by their benevolent master, Zhang Sanfeng to the fullest. He thought that in all his life he had never seen his Shidi [younger martial brother] unleash this kind of brilliant swordsmanship. Today, while facing a life and death situation, he was able to display the most refined of their school’s sword technique. Wudang Pai’s martial art paid particular attention to resiliency; the longer the fight, the stronger they were. The longer they were able to hold their ground, the greater the chance they would not get defeated.

Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip vibrated, creating circles, big and small circles, surrounding Yin Liting’s entire body with these circles. Taiji Fist and Taiji Sword also based on transmitting strength through circles. Surprisingly, Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip was also vibrating strength through circles. The rotational direction of the whip and Yin Liting’s sword were the same, but the whip was several times faster.

As Yin Liting’s sword was entangled by her whip, it lost its strength and did not want to follow its master’s command. The sword was swirled several times and then a blue ray flickered as the sword was thrown upward. Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip coiled down to smash the crown of Yin Liting’s head.

Yu Lianzhou immediately jumped forward. His right hand caught the tip of the flexible whip. From inside her gown, Zhou Zhiruo’s leg flew out, threatening Yu Lianzhou’s waist.

From the start, Yu Lianzhou had always had difficulty predicting the direction of Zhou Zhiruo’s whip strange movements. However, when he saw her shook the whip to create the circles and snatch Yin Liting’s sword, it suddenly it dawned on him, “Turns out her skill is only mediocre. Her technique in vibrating the whip to make circles is far inferior to our Taiji Fist.”

As he grabbed the tip of the whip, ignoring the attack toward his waist, his left hand struck Zhou Zhiruo’s lower abdomen using the ‘hu zhua jue hu shou’ [‘tiger claw disappears into the door’ hand].

Zhou Zhiruo was unable to block. Like a lightning, this thought came into her mind, “I’ll die under Yu Er Shu’s [second (younger) uncle] hands today.” Releasing the whip handle, the five fingers of her right hand came down on top of Yu Lianzhou’s head, hoping that in her death, she would take Yu Lianzhou along.

Yu Lianzhou wanted to lean his head sideways to evade, but unfortunately, the ‘tui hou xue’ [lit. ‘behind the leg’ acupoint] on his waist was sealed by Zhou Zhiruo’s kick that his neck stiffened and he could not turn his head. However, the strength of his left hand did not diminish.

At the time when both people’s lives were hanging by a thread, someone suddenly darted in from the side; his right hand blocked Yu Lianzhou’s ‘hu zhua jue hu shou’, his left hand stopped Zhou Zhiruo’s fingers, which were about to pierce Yu Lianzhou’s skull. It was Zhang Wuji who decided to save them.

Zhou Zhiruo combined the forces of her palms to strike Zhang Wuji’s chest. If Zhang Wuji dodged the attack, this pair of palms would strike Yin Liting’s face, therefore, he had no choice but parry her palms with his left palm.

As these two people’s three palms struck each other, Zhang Wuji suddenly felt that Zhou Zhiruo’s palms were void of any strength. Zhang Wuji was stunned. “Aiyo, not good!” he thought, “After fighting ferociously with Liu Shu [sixth uncle] for more than 200 stances, she is like a lamp which oil has dried up. If I continued sending out my strength, she would certainly die on the spot.” In desperation, he hastily pulled back his strength.

When he sent out his left palm, he only knew that Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art did not differ too much from his own, that she was a powerful opponent; therefore, he did not dare to be negligent. With one palm blocking two, he had sent his entire strength. As the force was just about to come out, he realized the opponent was devoid of any strength, so he hurriedly pulled back his power. He was well aware that by doing so, he had violated an important principle of the martial art theory. It was equal to attacking his own body with his entire strength. In addition, he needed to use more strength in order to pull back the outgoing power. Fortunately, he had reached a level where he could send out or pull back his power at will. This sudden withdrawal of his strength would only stop the flow of his ‘chi’ momentarily, but would not greatly harm him.

Unexpectedly, as he pulled his strength, he suddenly felt like a burst of flooding water breaking a dam, the opponent’s strength surged into his body with an irresistible force. Zhang Wuji was greatly shocked; realizing that he had fallen into the enemy’s trap. ‘Bang!’ his chest was squarely hit by Zhou Zhiruo’s palms.

Zhang Wuji was stricken by his own strength plus Zhou Zhiruo’s palm power. It was as if two martial art masters joined hands to attack him. Although his Jiu Yang Shen Gong protecting his body was profound, it was simply too much for him to bear. Much less, the power of Zhou Zhiruo’s palms seized the opportunity to burst in when his defense line was wide open; right when his previous strength was pulled back and before the new strength was generated.

This technique was actually Emei Pai’s specialty. In the past, Miejue Shitai had used it to strike him until he spurted blood and fell down to the ground. It was just that in the past, he was completely ignorant on how to withstand the attack. This time however, he misread Zhou Zhiruo’s intentions and thus had fallen under the deceit.

Zhang Wuji was thrown backwards. His vision blackened and he spurted a mouthful of blood.

As Zhou Zhiruo’s sneak attack succeeded, her left hand followed with five fingers aimed at the pit of his stomach. Zhang Wuji was heavily injured, but he had not lost consciousness. Seeing the claw was about to rip his throat and chest open, he strained himself to inch backward some more. ‘Rip!’ Zhou Zhiruo’s claw scratched the front part of his clothes open, revealing Zhang Wuji’s bare chest. Zhou Zhiruo’s right hand claw swiftly followed.

At this moment, Yu Lianzhou’s acupoint was sealed by her kick so he was unable to move. Yin Liting was some distance away so even though he pounced forward, he would be too late to save him. It looked like Zhang Wuji would not be able to escape this calamity.

As she was glancing down, Zhou Zhiruo suddenly saw a deep scar on his chest. It was the scar when she stabbed him with the Yitian Sword at the Brightness Peak. Her five fingers were less than half a foot from his chest, but mixed emotions suddenly surged up in her breast. Her eyes turned red and her claw stopped midair.

While she was hesitating, Wei Yixiao, Yin Liting, Yang Xiao, and Fan Yao, four people had already arrived. Wei Yixiao flew and blocked in front on Zhang Wuji. Yang and Fan, two people launched a converging attack from left and right. Yin Liting quickly grabbed Zhang Wuji and took him away.

The crowd around the field was thrown into chaos. Emei Pai disciples and Shaolin monks shouted and grabbing their weapons, and rushed into the arena. Yang Xiao and Fan Yao only fought Zhou Zhiruo for several stances before they stopped. Wei Yixiao helped up Yu Lianzhou, taking him back to their shelter. Emei Pai and Shaolin Pai also returned to their positions as they saw that the fight had ceased.

Zhao Min was actually also rushing into the arena, but her speed was inferior to that of Wei Yixiao, Yang Xiao, and the others. By the time she was halfway, Zhang Wuji was already carried back. As she saw blood seeping out from his mouth, she was so frightened that her face turned sheet-white.

Forcing a smile, Zhang Wuji said, “I am all right. I only need to circulate my ‘chi’ for a while.”

Everybody helped him to sit in the shelter. At once Zhang Wuji slowly circulated his Jiu Yang Shen Gong to treat his internal injury.

Zhou Zhiruo called out, “Which hero will come up to grant me instruction?” Tightening his belt, Fan Yao went out in big strides.

“Fan You Shi,” Zhang Wuji quickly called out, “Listen to my order: you must not fight. We … we admit defeat …” As he opened his mouth, he vomited two more mouthful of blood.

Fan Yao did not dare to defy his Jiaozhu’s order. Supposing he insisted on fighting, he would inevitably make Zhang Wuji’s injury worse. Besides, even if he fought with everything he had, he might only deliver his life in vain without any advantage to their own Cult.

Standing in the middle of the field, Zhou Zhiruo asked two more times.

The fact that Zhang Wuji was injured by his own pulled-back strength was known to him and Zhou Zhiruo only. Others believed that Zhou Zhiruo’s power was so strange that Zhang Wuji was not her match. The spectators only saw that Zhou Zhiruo did not continue her claw and thus they believed that she spared Zhang Wuji’s life. As a young woman, she successfully defeated Yin Liting, Yu Lianzhou and Zhang Wuji; three prominent martial art masters of this age. Everybody believed that her martial art was simply too strange; totally beyond anybody’s comprehension.

Although there were more than a handful warriors among the crowd of heroes who were quite skillful in martial arts, upon self-introspection, these people realized they could not be compared to Yin, Yu and Zhang, three people; therefore, they decided there was no need for them to lose their lives for nothing.

Standing in the field, Zhou Zhiruo’s gown was blown by the mountain breeze, giving the impression that her gentle and frail figure was swaying by the wind. All around the field there were several thousand heroes and warriors from all over the world [orig. ‘san shan wu yue, si mian ba fang’ – three hills and five mountains, four faces and eight directions. Five sacred mountains of the Taoism are: Tai Shan, Hua Shan, Heng Shan, Heng Shan (different characters) and Song Shan.], yet not a single one dared to come down and challenge her.

Zhou Zhiruo waited a while longer, still nobody stepped forward. The old monk from Damo Hall walked into the field. Joining his palms together he said, “The skill of Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren [sect leader], Mrs. Song surpasses the crowd of heroes. Her martial art skill is number one in the world. Is there any hero who disagrees?”

Zhou Dian called out, “I, Zhou Dian, disagree.”

“In that case,” the old monk said, “I invite Zhou Yingxiong [hero Zhou] to come down and have a competition with her.”

“I am not her match,” Zhou Dian replied, “What can I compete with her?”

“Zhou Yingxiong,” the old monk replied, “Since you are aware you are not her match, aren’t you submitting to her?”

“I know that I am not her match,” Zhou Dian said, “But I do not submit to her. What’s wrong with that?”

The old monk no longer argued with his twisted logic. He asked, “Aside from this gentleman, Zhou Yingxiong, is there anybody else who do not submit to her?”

He repeated the question three times. Zhou Dian also voiced his disagreement three times. But nobody else made any noise to challenge the decision.

“Since nobody is going to challenge her,” the old monk said, “Then according to the prior agreement of this great assembly, Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun will be handed over to Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren, Mrs. Song. Whoever has the precious Tulong Saber in his possession should also hand over the control of the said Saber to Mrs. Song. This is the agreement reached by the heroes present and nobody will be allowed to dissent.”

Zhang Wuji was in the middle of treating his heavy injury by dispersing his internal energy and activating his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi. He was slowly entering the ‘clear’ and ‘void’ state of mind. But as he suddenly heard the old monk say ‘Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun will be handed over to Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren, Mrs. Song’, his mind was shaken and he nearly threw up another mouthful of blood.

Zhao Min was sitting close to him, caring for him with complete attention. Seeing Zhang Wuji suddenly shiver and his face greatly change, she understood his concern.

“Wuji Gege,” she said in a soft voice, “Nothing could be better than Yifu falling into Zhou Jiejie’s hands. She did not have a heart to kill you just now; obviously, she still has deep feelings for you. I am sure she will not harm Yifu. Please set your heart at ease and just concentrate on treating your injury.”

Zhang Wuji thought she was right. He felt relieved.

In the meantime, the sun was slowly setting behind the western mountain. The field gradually turned dark. The old monk said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun is confined somewhere in the back of the mountain. Right now, the sky has turned dark, Gentlemen and Ladies must be hungry. We will gather here again tomorrow afternoon. Lao Seng [old monk, referring to himself] will lead Mrs. Song to release the prisoner. That time we will witness Mrs. Song’s unparalleled martial art skill once again.”

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, and the others cast their glances toward Zhao Min. They all thought, “Exactly as you predicted. Shaolin Pai indeed has another plot. Even if Zhou Zhiruo possessed stronger martial art skill, there is no way she would be able to defeat Du E and the others, three eminent monks. I am afraid she would lose her life on top of that small hill. By showing off their power, Shaolin Pai will still dominate over the Wulin world.”

By this time Zhou Zhiruo had already returned to her thatched shelter. By defeating the heroes that day, Emei Pai’s prestige soared high. Seeing their Sect Leader return, there was not a single Emei disciple who did not show profound respect.

Although the crowd of heroes had seen Zhou Zhiruo win the title ‘Number One Martial Artist under the Heavens’, the most important matter had not been brought to completion yet, its conclusion was still left to everybody’s guess. Therefore, nobody went down the mountain that day.

The old monk said, “By visiting our Temple, all heroes are Shaolin Pai’s esteemed guests. If there is any resentment in your midst, we respectfully request for our sake that you do not settle it up on the Shaoshi Mountain. Otherwise, we will consider you as looking down on Shaolin Pai. After dinner tonight, you may visit the front part of the mountain as you wish. The rear part of the mountain, however, is where our Sect keeps our scriptures and manuals. We ask you to stay away from that part.”

Immediately Fan Yao took Zhang Wuji and carried him back to the Ming Cult camp. Although Zhang Wuji’s injury was very heavy, after taking nine of his own ‘miracle pills’ plus circulating his Jiu Yang Shen Qi, deep into the night, around the second hour [between 1 – 3am], he vomited three mouthfuls of blood and his internal injury was completely healed.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the others were pleasantly surprised. They all praised his internal energy cultivation as unparalleled in the world. If someone else suffered such a heavy injury, even if he was under a master physician’s care, he would need at least one or two months before he could comfortably circulate his ‘chi’ again. The fact that Zhang Wuji was able to recuperate in a matter of hours was simply too incredible. It would be hard for them to believe if they did not witness it with their own eyes.

Zhang Wuji ate two bowls of rice. After resting for a moment, he stood up and said, “I need to get some air.”

He was the Cult Leader. Even though he did not tell them what he was going to do, nobody dared to inquire. Yin Liting only said, “You have just recovered from a serious injury; you must be very careful.”

“I will!” Zhang Wuji replied. Noticing a great concern on Zhao Min’s face, he gave her a faint smile as if he was saying, “Don’t worry!”

As Zhang Wuji walked out the shed and looked up, he saw the bright moon and sparse stars in the sky. He took a deep breath and felt that his ‘zhen qi’ [real/genuine ‘chi’] was flowing freely around his body. His spirit rose as he walked toward the Temple gate.

“I [orig. zai4xia4 – ‘under’] have something I’d like to discuss with Emei Pai Zhang Men [sect leader]; would you please show me the way?” he said to the monk in charge of the reception of the visitors.

The monk on duty knew he was the Ming Cult Jiaozhu. “Yes! Yes!” he said, full of respect, “Xiao Seng [humble monk – referring to self] will show the way. Zhang Jiaozhu, this way, please.”

Leading Zhang Wuji to the west, they walked for approximately a ‘li’ [0.5km] before he pointed toward several little huts some distance away.

The monk said, “Emei Pai stays over there. Monks and nuns are not supposed to mingle. Xiao Seng feels uncomfortable to get too close this late at night.” Actually, he was afraid Zhang Wuji might fight with Zhou Zhiruo again. If two masters of the present age involved in a battle, he might get unlucky and would be hurt as an innocent bystander.

With a smile Zhang Wuji said, “If you returned and mentioned this matter, you would unavoidably alarm the others. I’d better seal your acupoint. What do you say?”

The monk hastily said, “Xiao Seng will not dare to open my mouth. Jiaozhu, don’t worry.” Hurriedly he turned around and left

Zhang Wuji strolled leisurely toward the huts. He stopped about a dozen of ‘zhang’s away from the huts. Two nuns immediately flew in. Holding their swords horizontally across their bodies they shouted, “Who’s there?”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Ming Cult’s Zhang Wuji wishes to have an audience with your precious Sect’s Sect Leader, Mrs. Song.”

The two nuns were very apprehensive; the more senior of the two haltingly said, “Zhang … Zhang Jiaozhu, please wait here, I … I have to report it first.” Although she tried to act calm, her voice trembled. She turned around and started to walk. But only several steps later she took out a bamboo whistle and blew it.

Emei Pai was very happy and proud that day. Their Sect Leader had defeated three of the great masters of the present age in front of the world heroes. She had scared the several thousand fierce warriors so that none dared to challenge her. That was indeed an unprecedented grand occasion in the history of their Sect. However, the Emei Pai had killed two Elders of the Beggar Clan, defeated two heroes of Wudang, and injured the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. The number of people they had offended today was truly not a few. In addition, with Zhou Zhiruo winning the ‘Number One Martial Artist in the World’ title, there would be many heroes who were angry or envious. Thus, that night they set up tight sentries and patrols around their camp to guard against any threat from the outside.

As the nun blew the whistle, more than twenty people rushed in immediately from all directions. Their blades flickered under the moonlight. Zhang Wuji ignored their presence. He stood still with his hands behind his back.

The nun disappeared into a small hut. She reappeared a moment later and said, “Our humble Sect’s Zhang Men Ren says: Men and women are not supposed to mingle, especially this late at night. Zhang Jiaozhu, please return.”

“I have a rather acceptable medical skill,” Zhang Wuji said, “I only wish to treat Song Qingshu Shaoxia’s [young hero] injury; nothing more.”

The nun was startled. She went back into the hut to convey the message. After a long time, she returned and said, “Zhang Men Ren invites you to come in.”

Zhang Wuji patted his waist to show that he did not carry any weapon before walking behind the nun to enter the hut. He saw Zhou Zhiruo sitting by a table on the side; her cheek rested on her palm. She was lost in thought so that she did not turn her head although she heard him. The nun poured a cup of green tea and set it on the table then she retreated and gently closed the door. There were no other people in the room. A flickering white candle on the table illuminated Zhou Zhiruo’s plain dark green attire. The overall scene was sad and gloomy.

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. In a low voice he said, “How is Song Shige’s condition? Let me take a look at him.”

Without turning her head, Zhou Zhiruo coldly said, “His skull is smashed, his injury is very heavy. Most likely he won’t survive. I don’t even know if he would survive the night.”

“You know my medical skill is not too bad,” Zhang Wuji said, “I will do my best to save him.”

“Why do you want to save him?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji was startled. “I did you wrong,” he said, “In my heart, I am very ashamed. Moreover, you have showed me mercy today by letting me live. Song Shige is injured; I want to make it up to you somehow.”

“You showed me mercy first, do you think I did not know it?” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “If you can bring Song Dage back to life, how do you want me to repay?”

“A life for a life,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I am asking you to show mercy on my Yifu.”

Pointing toward the inner chamber Zhou Zhiruo indifferently said, “He is inside.”

Zhang Wuji walked toward the inside chamber. But as he saw the room was pitch-black without any light, he took the candlestick and went in. Zhou Zhiruo did not move; she was still sitting motionless with her cheek on her palm.

Zhang Wuji raised the dark green mosquito net up. Under the candlelight, he saw that Song Qingshu’s eyes were bulging, his facial features [orig. ‘wu3guan1’ – five sensory organs: nose, eyes, lips, tongue, ears] were distorted, making his countenance hideous. His breathing was very weak and he had lost consciousness long ago. Zhang Wuji held his wrist only to find his pulse was chaotic; sometimes fast, sometimes slow. His skin felt ice-cold. If he was not treated immediately, indeed he would not survive the night. Zhang Wuji lightly touched his skull and felt that four pieces of Song Qingshu’s skull, the forehead and the back of his head, were disintegrated. Zhang Wuji thought about the fierceness of his Yu Er Bo’s [second (older) uncle] pair of fists. This ‘shuang feng guan er’ stance was backed by a hundred percent internal energy. If Song Qingshu did not have a very strong foundation in internal energy cultivation, he would have died on the spot.

Zhang Wuji let down the mosquito net. He put down the candlestick on the table, sat on a bamboo chair by the table, and was deep in thought, thinking how he was going to treat the injury. Song Qingshu’s injury was fatal; even with all his might, Zhang Wuji’s confidence only reached 30%.

It took him about the time to cook rice to consider all options carefully; and then he stood up and went out the room. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “Whether or not Song Shige’s life would be saved, I find it very difficult to assert. Would you let me give it a try?”

“If you can’t save him, nobody else in this world can,” Zhou Zhiruo answered.

Zhang Wuji said, “Even if his life is spared, I am afraid his face, his martial art will not return to his former days. His brain was also shaken badly. I am afraid … I am afraid even speaking will not be easy for him.”

“You are not a deity,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “I know you will do your utmost to bring him back to life, so that you can be the imperial court’s consort with a clear conscience.”

Zhang Wuji was stumped; he thought it was inappropriate for him to respond, so he simply went back to the inner chamber and uncovered the quilt covering Song Qingshu’s body. After sealing Song Qingshu’s eight major acupoints, with an extreme care and very light pressure, which was neither here nor there, his ten fingers started to mend Song Qingshu’s broken skull, piece by piece. And then he took out a golden case from his bosom. With his little finger he picked a bead of blackish paste, which he then rubbed evenly with both hands on Song Qingshu’s broken skull.

This black paste was the ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ [black jade bone mending ointment], which was the supreme panacea of broken bones, developed by the Shaolin Pai of the Western Region. It was what remained from the ointment he begged from Zhao Min to treat Yu Daiyan and Yin Liting’s broken limbs. He also sent out his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in steady stream through his palm to help the medicine penetrate Song Qingshu’s broken bones.

About the time needed to burn an incense stick later, Zhang Wuji had finished applying his energy. Seeing Song Qingshu’s face did not worsen, he was delighted; knowing that his chance of saving Song Qingshu’s life had been increased by several points.

He had just recovered from a heavy injury so that after exerting that much energy, his heart was beating faster and his breath was labored. After standing next to the bed while regulating his ‘chi’ for half a day, he walked back to the outer chamber and put the candlestick back on the table.

Under the flickering candlelight, he saw Zhou Zhiruo’s face was unusually pale. Hearing light footsteps outside the room, he knew that the Emei disciples were still patrolling around their camp.

“I think Song Shige will live. Set your heart at ease,” he said.

“You don’t have the confidence of saving his life, I also don’t have the confidence of saving Xie Daxia’s life,” Zhou Zhiruo said.

“She is going to attack the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan tomorrow,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Even if there is one or two masters within the Emei Pai to give her a hand, nine out of ten it would be difficult for her to succeed. Perhaps she might deliver her life instead.” Thereupon he said, “Do you know the situation of the place where they hold Yifu captive?”

“I don’t,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “What kind of fierce ambush Shaolin Pai is preparing?”

And thus Zhang Wuji explained briefly how Xie Xun was held prisoner in a dungeon on top of a small hill, and that he was guarded by Shaolin’s three old monks; how he himself had failed to break the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan twice, resulted in the death of Yin Tianzheng.

Zhou Zhiruo was listening quietly until he was finished, and then she said, “That being the case, if you failed to break their defense, what hope do I have?”

Suddenly Zhang Wuji got an idea. “Zhiruo,” he happily said, “If the two of us join hands, we can accomplish greater merits. With my pure ‘yang’ and ‘hard’ power, I can entangle the three eminent monks’ long whips. With your ‘yin’ and ‘soft’ power, you seize the opportunity to enter. Once you are inside the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan defense line, with converging attack from outside and inside, we could score a victory.”

With a cold laugh Zhou Zhiruo said, “We were once engaged to each other. Right now, my husband is hovering between life and death. On top of that, I did not take your life today. Other people would say that I still have a feeling toward you. If I took your advice by asking you to help me, the heroes of the world would scold me as one without any sense of honor, indecisive and capricious.”

Zhang Wuji anxiously said, “We only need to have clear conscience. Why would we give any regard to whatever other people might say?”

“And if I do have a guilty conscience?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji was taken aback; he could only say, “You … You …”

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a single man and I am a widow. With us being together this late of night, it’s hard for us to avoid public criticism. Please leave immediately!”

Zhang Wuji stood up and bowed deeply. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “You have been very good to me since we were very young. I wish you would bestow kindness to me one more time. For the rest of his life, Zhang Wuji will not dare to forget your kindness.”

Zhou Zhiruo met his request with silence; she neither agreed nor disagreed. All along, she did not even turn her head so that Zhang Wuji was unable to see her expression. While he was just about to repeat his request, in a loud voice Zhou Zhiruo called, “Jinghui Shijie [martial (older) sister], see the visitor out!”

With a creaking noise, the outer door opened. Jinghui stood outside with a sword in her hand. She stared at Zhang Wuji with an angry look.

Zhang Wuji thought that at this moment, his Yifu’s life was at stake; his own reputation was of no importance. Thereupon, he knelt down in front of Zhou Zhiruo and kowtowed four times. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “I am asking for your mercy.”

Zhou Zhiruo sat motionless like a statue.

“Zhang Wuji,” Jinghui shouted, “Zhang Men Ren [sect leader] told you to get out. Why are you still pestering her? You are indeed a scum of the Wulin community. There is no one this shameless!” She thought that Song Qingshu had died and thus Zhang Wuji was begging Zhou Zhiruo to marry him.

Zhang Wuji sighed and jumped out the door.

Before even reaching the Ming Cult camp, Zhao Min had already met him. “Song Qingshu’s life is saved, isn’t it?” she said, “And you have used my ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ to be a good man.”

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed, “You truly have a deity’s foresight. At this time, it’s still hard to say whether he will be alive or not.”

Zhao Min heaved a deep sigh and said, “You wanted to save Song Qingshu’s life as an exchange for Xie Daxia. Wuji Gege, you are growing more and more muddleheaded; you do not have the least bit of understanding of other people’s hearts.”

“Why?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “I don’t understand what you were saying.”

“You saved Song Qingshu with all your strength, your blood, your sweat. That means you did not care about Zhou Jiejie’s feeling to you the least bit,” Zhao Min said, “Tell me, do you think she is or she isn’t angry?”

Zhang Wuji was startled; he was at a loss for words. He thought it would defy any logic if Zhou Zhiruo did not want her husband to be healed. However, she did say, ‘I know you will do your utmost to bring him back to life, so that you can be the imperial court’s consort with a clear conscience’. Clearly, this sentence carried the idea that Zhou Zhiruo resented him. Moreover, she also said, ‘what if I do have a guilty conscience?’

“You have saved Song Qingshu’s life, and now you regret it, don’t you?” Zhao Min asked. Without waiting for Zhang Wuji’s answer, she smiled slightly and then flew back into the shed.

Zhang Wuji sat on a large rock. He raised his head to look at the cold crescent moon, and was lost in thought. His mind wandered back to the events that followed the first time he met Zhou Ziruo, especially her tone of speaking and her body language just now. He lowered his head, while myriads of indiscernible thoughts raced back and forth in his mind.

Early morning on the sixth day of the fifth month, the bells inside the Shaolin Temple rang, calling the crowd of heroes to gather again in the field. This time, the old monk of the Damo Hall did not even ask for Kong Zhi’s permission. He stood in the middle of the field and said in a loud and clear voice, “All heroes, greetings! In the martial art competition yesterday, the Emei Pai Sect Leader, Mrs. Song’s skill was proven to surpass everybody else’s. We invite Mrs. Song to the back of the mountain to break the guard and get Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun out. Lao Seng [old monk – referring to self] will show the way.” Finished speaking, he proceeded walking toward the back of the mountain.

Emei Pai’s eight senior female disciples promptly followed him, with Zhou Zhiruo and the rest of Emei disciples close on their heels. The rest of the heroes followed after them. Zhang Wuji noticed that Zhou Zhiruo wore similar clothes to the ones she wore the previous day, not mourning clothes, so he knew Song Qingshu had not died yet.

“Critical moment has passed,” Zhang Wuji thought, “He will live.”

As the crowd of heroes went up to the peak of the hill, they saw that the three eminent monks were still sitting cross-legged under the pine trees.

The old monk of the Damo Hall said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang is held captive in the underground dungeon in between the three green pine trees. Guarding the dungeon are our Sect’s three elders. Mrs. Song’s martial art skill is unrivalled under the heavens. She only needs to defeat our Sect’s three elders then she can open the dungeon and take the prisoner away. The rest of us will have the opportunity to admire Mrs. Song’s skill once again.”

Seeing Zhang Wuji’s indeterminate expression, Yang Xiao said quietly by his ear, “Jiaozhu, don’t worry. Wei Fu Wang and Shuo Bude are leading the Five-Element Banners to surround the peak. If Emei Pai is unwilling to hand Xie Shi Wang over, we will have to use force.”

Frowning, Zhang Wuji said, “That means we are breaking the general assembly’s rules and breaking good faith.”

“I am only afraid Mrs. Song would place a sword on Xie Shi Wang’s neck,” Yang Xiao said, “And then many innocent bystanders would be hurt. Breaking good faith or not, we simply can’t deal with this crowd alone.”

Zhao Min quietly said, “Xie Shi Wang’s enemies are numerous. We must guard against sneak attacks, someone launching secret projectile from among the crowd.”

Yang Xiao said, “Fan You Shi, Priest Tie Guan, Zhou Xiong [brother Zhou] Peng Dashi [reverend Peng], four people are taking their positions on the four corners, guarding against sneak attacks.”

In a low voice Zhao Min said, “It would be better if someone launched a secret projectile. We may seize the opportunity amidst the chaos to snatch Xie Shi Wang. The world heroes could not blame us for breaking good faith. However, if all is quiet … something has to happen … Hmm, Yang Zuo Shi, have someone in disguise secretly launch an attack toward Xie Shi Wang to stir up the water, and then in the midst of trouble we snatch him away.”

Yang Xiao laughed. “This is a wonderful idea,” he said, and then immediately left to find someone to execute the plan.

Zhang Wuji realized they were not being straightforward and upright; but in order to save his Yifu, they were left with no other choice but to act decisively. In his heart, he could not stop feeling grateful toward Zhao Min. He thought, “In the face of critical situation, Min Mei and Yang Zuo Shi both have the ability to act decisive. It is very seldom that they had to stop and discuss matters at length, and lose a good opportunity. I don’t have that ability.”

In the meantime, he heard that Zhou Zhiruo was saying, “Since the three eminent monks are Shaolin Pai’s elders, your martial art skill must be very profound. If I fought you with one against three, not only it will be unfair, it will also be disrespectful of me.”

The Damo Hall’s old monk said, “If Mrs. Song must have one or two people to help, you may do so.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “Because all the heroes under the heavens yielded to me, I was fortunate to win the competition. I was using our Sect’s special skill, secretly passed on by Xian Shi [late/departed master], Miejue Shitai. Supposing we fought three against three, even if we scored a victory, I would fail to display the instructions my Xian Shi painstakingly taught me. But if I fought one against three, I would show disrespect toward the host. Therefore, let us do this: I am going to call someone who was injured under my hands yesterday, whose injury has not completely recovered, a kid to lend me a hand. This kid was once struck by my Xian Shi three times that he spurted blood. Let all the heroes under the heavens know. That way, my Xian Shi’s prestige will not be damaged.”

As Zhang Wuji heard this, he was utterly delighted. “Thanks the Heaven and thanks the Earth! She indeed allows me to come forward.”

“Zhang Wuji,” he heard Zhou Zhiruo call out, “Come out.”

Aside from Yang Xiao and a few other people, the Ming Cult warriors did not know the background story; but all of them were angry to hear Zhou Zhiruo saying ‘this kid this’ and ‘this kid that’ in total disrespect of their Cult Leader. To their surprise, however, they saw that Zhang Wuji looked so happy. He stepped forward, bowed with cupped fists and said, “Many thanks Mrs. Song, for showing mercy and sparing this kid’s life yesterday.”

Zhang Wuji had already decided in his heart, “She is humiliating me publicly not only to gain face to the Emei Pai, but also to retaliate for the disgrace that day, when the groom fled in the middle of the wedding ceremony. For Yifu’s sake, I must set aside everything else.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “You were heavily injured that you vomited some blood yesterday. I don’t really need any help today, but we must show some manners.”

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I will follow your orders, I will not dare to disobey.”

Zhou Zhiruo took out her whip. As she shook her right hand, the whip immediately created more than a dozen big and small circles in the air. It was a very beautiful sight. Her left hand flipped over. A blue ray flashed. A short blade appeared in her hand. The crowd of heroes had seen the formidable power of her flexible whip yesterday; they did not expect that she was able to use a blade at the same time. One long, the other short, one flexible, the other stiff; these two weapons were exact opposite of each other. The crowd of heroes gasped in admiration; their spirits were aroused.

Zhang Wuji fetched a couple of Sheng Huo Ling tablets from his pocket. He took two steps forward. Suddenly he staggered and deliberately let out several coughs, as if he had not fully recovered and was having difficulty even to protect himself, so that if they defeat the three Shaolin monks, the crowd of heroes would think that all credits belong to Zhou Zhiruo.

Zhou Zhiruo came near to him and said in a low voice, “You have sworn an oath to avenge your ‘biaomei’ [younger maternal female cousin]. But if the murderer who harmed her was your Yifu, do you still want to save him?”

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. “Yifu suffers from some mental illness, he cannot be held responsible for his own actions,” he finally said.

Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu come here to grant some more instructions today.”

“I beg the forgiveness of the three Eminent Monks,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Well said, well said!” Du E said, “This Emei Pai Zhang Men; I heard she defeated all heroes under the heavens yesterday. Could it be that her martial art is superior to Zhang Jiaozhu’s?”

“Certainly,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Wan bei [younger generation – referring to self] suffered a severe injury and I vomited blood under Zhou Zhang Men’s hands yesterday.”

“That’s strange,” Du Nan said.

The three old monks’ long whip slowly shook and came out. Right at this moment, from the waist of the hill suddenly came a gentle sound of ‘qin’ [zither] and flute ensemble, intermingled with the cry of the birds.

Zhang Wuji was very happy. As the ‘yao qin’ [jade or mother-of-pearl zither] made three ‘zheng, zheng, zheng’ noise, four young woman wearing white clothes floating onto the peak, each one had a short zither in her hands. Next, amidst the rising and falling flute sound, four young women in black, each blowing a long flute, walked up the peak. The black and white intermingled, eight young women stood on eight directions. The zither and flute ensemble played a gentle, yet elegant music.

Accompanied by this beautiful music, a beautiful woman draped in light yellow soft cotton clothing strolled leisurely toward the peak. She was the woman Zhang Wuji met during the Beggar Clan meeting at Lulong the other day.

As soon as the little girl, the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, Shi Hongshi saw her, she rushed forward, threw herself in that woman’s bosom and cried out, “Yang Jiejie, Yang Jijie! Our Zhanglao and Longtou have been killed!” She pointed toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “They were killed under Emei Pai and Shaolin Pai’s malicious hands.”

The woman in yellow nodded and said, “I know. Humph! Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua is not necessarily the strongest martial art in the world.”

Ever since she arrived at the peak, her entourage, her beautiful face and her elegant manners have captivated the attention of everybody present. These few words of her were clearly heard by everyone. The crowd of heroes was astonished. The older ones among them thought, “Could it be that Emei Pai’s claw technique is the sinister and ruthless skill, ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’, which shook the Jianghu over a hundred years ago?” They had heard the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’s name, and they knew this martial art was evil and brutal to the extreme; but since it had been lost for a long time, nobody had ever seen it.

The woman in yellow took Shi Hongshi by the hand and led her back to the Beggar Clan crowd. Then she sat on a piece of mountain rock.

Zhou Zhiruo’s countenance slightly changed as in a low voice she asked, “Who is this woman?”

“I only met her once,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I don’t know her name, I don’t know her origin; I only know she has some relation with the Beggar Clan.”

“Humph!” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, and then said, “Let’s start!” Her long whip shook and coiled toward Du Nan’s long rope, while grasping this opportunity to occupy the space in between the three deep green pine trees. Her first move in attacking the center of the enemies was very ruthless and swift, with lots of guts; even first-class Jianghu masters might be unable to do what she did.

The crowd of heroes only saw her shadow in the air, just like a giant dark green crane sweeping down from the sky; her movements were incomparably graceful.

The flexible whip in her right hand entangled Du Nan’s long rope. Both of them exerted their strength trying to pull their respective weapons that Du Nan’s weapon was rendered useless temporarily. Du E and Du Jie’s pair of whips made a converging attack from left and right.

Zhang Wuji immediately stepped forward, but his step faltered and he tumbled down to the ground. The crowd of heroes gasped; they thought that after his injury, Zhang Wuji’s steps were weakened. They did not know that Zhang Wuji was using the ancient Persian martial art he learned from the Sheng Huo Ling tablets. His movements were weird, totally unpredictable. As he seemed to be falling forward, the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands actually struck toward the pit of Du Nan’s stomach.

Du Nan’s long rope was still entangled by Zhou Zhiruo’s whip that he was unable to use his weapon to block the attack. Du E and Du Jie saw the danger. Their ropes left Zhou Zhiruo to assault Zhang Wuji. Two long strips of black ropes, with overwhelming power swiftly struck toward Zhang Wuji like a pair of black dragons so that he would be hard pressed to block. Who would have thought that Zhang Wuji rolled around on the ground to escape the attack while rolling toward Du E.

Du E thrust his left hand toward Zhang Wuji’s shoulder. Zhang Wuji parried with his left palm using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. His body shook and his shoulder bumped toward Du Jie. He resolutely wanted to make Zhou Zhiruo famous today by giving up the credit of defeating the Shaolin three eminent monks entirely to Emei Pai Zhang Men. His only wish was that he would be able to save Xie Xun. By using the ancient Persian martial art, he rolled and circled to the east, and stumbled and turned to the west. His movements were totally unattractive; he seemed to be in a very distressing situation.

There were many outstandingly experienced warriors with vast knowledge among the spectators, but this special ancient Persian martial art was simply too strange. In addition, there had never been anybody from the Central Plains using it. Much less, the fact that Zhang Wuji was heavily injured the previous day was a public knowledge. Consequently, no one realized that he was only pretending. There wasn’t any one among the enemies of the Ming Cult who was not secretly delighted, while all the friends of the Ming Cult were deeply troubled; thinking that Zhang Wuji might lose his life over this matter today.

Over several dozens of stances later, they saw that Zhou Zhiruo’s shadow abruptly flashed up and down, swiftly swaying in an unpredictable manner. In the meantime, Zhang Wuji seemed to be losing his ground. His hands and feet moved in a frantic manner, not any better than a fool who had just started training martial arts. However, no matter how dangerous his situation was, he always managed to escape the opponent’s fatal blow at the last moment.

The experienced heroes among the crowd started to realize that Zhang Wuji must have followed some type of footwork; perhaps something similar to ‘zui ba xian’ [drunken eight immortals], where the movements seemed disorderly, but actually contained strange and subtle variations within it. This type of martial art skill was much more difficult to master than the orthodox martial art commonly practiced in that era.

If this ancient Persian martial art were used to fight one of the three eminent monks, regardless of which monk, he would certainly be confused and put at a disadvantage; just as Zhang Wuji was battered and exhausted when he was dealing with the Wind and Cloud Emissaries for the first time. However, these three Shaolin eminent monks had been in meditation together for several decades; their minds were interlinked. As soon as one of the monks showed a small opening in his defense line, the other two monks would immediately close that gap.

Zhang Wuji executed all kinds of strange movements. Each one was designed to confuse enemy’s vision. He would move to the left, but actually attack to the right; he seemed to attack to the front, but actually aim to the back; his movements were very difficult to predict. However, the three monks’ whips were as steady as their heartbeat, totally immune to his tricks.

Toward the seventieth, eightieth stance, Zhang Wuji’s strange movements continuously emerged one after another, but all along he failed to harm even a strand of these three monks’ hair. After nearly a hundred stances, he felt the three monks’ whips were getting stronger, while his own movements were getting sluggish; he was unable to move as quick as when they started fighting. He did not realize that the martial art he used was somewhat demonic, while the three monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was based on Buddhism power utilization technique to subdue evil spirit.

The spectators only saw as if he was fighting with renewed vigor, while actually it was because the demonic influence in his mind was growing stronger. If he fought for another hundred stances, unavoidably he would completely fall under the control of the three monks’ Buddhist influence and would continuously dance crazily beyond his control. Without any attack from the three eminent monks, he would condemn himself to his doom.

The common people called the Ming Cult as the Devil Cult not without any reason. This ancient Persian martial art was developed by ‘the Old Man of the Mountain’, the big devil that killed without batting his eyes. When Zhang Wuji first trained this martial art, he was unconscious of this demonic character; however, now that he was battling formidable opponents, he had to bring out the essence of this demonic martial art to its fullest potential, and thus his mind was gradually stimulated.

Suddenly he looked up to the sky and let out a hysterical and devilish ‘ha, ha, ha’ laughter. As he stopped laughing, from inside the dungeon among the three green pine trees came a voice; it was his Yifu, Xie Xun’s voice. Zhang Wuji heard Xie Xun’s old voice slowly recite the ‘Jin Gang Jing’ [Vajracchedika Sutra or Diamond Sutra], “Upon the occasion of hearing this Discourse Subhuti had an interior realization of its meaning and was moved to tears. Whereupon he addressed the Buddha thus: It is a most precious thing, World-honored One, that you should deliver this supremely profound Discourse. Never have I heard such an exposition since of old my eye of wisdom first opened. World-honored One, if anyone listens to this Discourse in faith with a pure, lucid mind, he will thereupon conceive an idea of Fundamental Reality …” [Translator’s note: I was about to give up translating this passage, fortunately, I found the English translation by A.F. Price, http://personal.palouse.net/lotus/diamondsutra.htm The passage Xie Xun recited was from Section XIV.]

Zhang Wuji was listening and fighting at the same time. As Xie Xun’s chanting rose up, he felt that he was able to resist the power of the whips of the three Shaolin monks. He heard Xie Xun continue, “World-honored One, having listened to this Discourse, I receive and retain it with faith and understanding. This is not difficult for me, but in ages to come – in the last five-hundred years, if there be men coming to hear this Discourse who receive and retain it with faith and understanding, they will be persons of most remarkable achievement. Wherefore? Because they will be free from the idea of an ego-entity, free from the idea of a personality, free from the idea of a being, and free from the idea of a separated individuality…”

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji’s heart became troubled. He knew that as his Yifu was being imprisoned in the dungeon on this peak, he listened to the three Shaolin eminent monks reciting the sutra every day. He was definitely able to escape the other day, but realizing he had committed grave offenses in the past, he was adamantly not willing to leave. Could it be that after listening to the teachings of Buddha for several months, he finally had a change of heart? The sutra said, ‘in ages to come – in the last five-hundred years, if there be men coming to hear this Discourse who receive and retain it with faith and understanding.’ At this moment, in Yifu’s heart, the ‘latter man of the five-hundred years’ must be a reference to Zhang Wuji. Only, the meaning of the scripture was very deep; Zhang Wuji was in the middle of a heated battle, he could not stop to ponder. Naturally, he did not know that Subhuti was an elder who listened to Sakyamuni Buddha’s discourse of the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, his understanding of what Xie Xun was reciting was next to nothing.

He heard Xie Xun continue, “Buddha said to Subhuti: Just as you say! If anyone listens to this Discourse and is neither filled with alarm nor awe nor dread, be it known that such a one is of remarkable achievement … When the Rajah of Kalinga mutilated my body, I was at that time free from the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, and a separated individuality. Wherefore? Because then when my limbs were cut away piece by piece, had I been bound by the aforesaiddistinctions, feelings of anger and hatred would have been aroused in me … Bodhisattvas should leave behind all phenomenal distinctions.”

Zhang Wuji understood this passage of scripture. It was clear that everything in this world was illusionary. In regard to my own body, my life, my mind, everything was temporal. Even if others cut my flesh into pieces, I simply need to disregard my own body, naturally all hatred and resentments would vanish. “Yifu lives in a dungeon, yet he seems to be at peace. Could it be that he has reached the realm of freedom from shock, intimidation, and fear?” As he pondered about this, he had another thought, “Is Yifu trying to tell me not to agonize over his well-being? That I don’t have to exert myself in rescuing him?”

Xie Xun had been imprisoned in the dungeon for several months. Every evening he heard the three monks in the pine trees reciting the ‘Diamond Sutra’. He was slowly enlightened by the meaning of the scripture. This time, as he heard Zhang Wuji’s devilish laughter, he realized the demonic influence was already growing in his heart; Zhang Wuji gradually entered into a dangerous situation. Immediately Xie Xun recited the ‘Diamon Sutra’ with the hope of driving the demonic influence out of Zhang Wuji’s heart.

While listening to the Buddhist scripture, Zhang Wuji’s hands did not stop moving. In his heart, he pondered upon the meaning of the text he was hearing. The demonic influence in his heart gradually diminished. Consequently, his ancient Persian martial art lost its effectiveness.

‘Swish!’ Du Jie’s long rope struck toward his left shoulder. Zhang Wuji shrank his shoulder to dodge. Without realizing it, he was using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi , supported by his Jiu Yang Shen Gong. At once he was able to neutralize the power of the incoming attack. His mind was moved, “It’s hard for me to score a victory using this ancient Persian martial art.”

Casting a sidelong glance toward Zhou Zhiruo, Zhang Wuji saw that she was struggling just to hold her ground, to the point that she was in the brink of defeat. He thought, “Today’s business is difficult to be resolved in a manner that will satisfy both sides.”I can forget about saving Yifu,if I don’t go all out and Zhiruo is defeated.” Letting out a clear whistle, he used the Sheng Huo Ling tablets to attack bit by bit.

Meanwhile, Xie Xun did not stop reciting the sutra, but Zhang Wuji focused his entire attention on the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi so he closed his ears to the chanting. He tried to take the three monks’ long ropes as much as possible with the hope of Zhou Zhiruofinding an opening so that she might enter the circle.

As Zhang Wuji fought with all his might, the three monks felt the pressure on their ropes was gradually getting heavier that they were forced to increase their internal energies to resist it. The three monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was based on ‘Jin Gang Jing’s [Diamond Sutra] highest essence; namely, it aimed to achieve the realm of ‘free from the idea of an ego-entity, free from the idea of a personality, free from the idea of a being, and free from the idea of a separated individuality’. There was no difference between me and you, no separation of life and death, completely regarded everything as illusory. Only, although the three monks’ cultivation was high, as they fought, they were still unable to overcome the desire to win. Although they had disregarded life and death, their human ego had not disappeared. Therefore, the power of their ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ could not reach its pinnacle.

Among the three monks, Du E’s cultivation was the highest that he had gotten rid of the ‘four freedoms from individuality’. However, the other two monks, Du Nan and Du Jie were still burning with the desire to achieve victory. This mixture of different inner desires had taken its toll in that Du E’s long whip movements did not seamlessly match with those of his two colleagues.

The crowd of heroes watching from the side had seen the changes in Zhang Wuji’s martial art. The battle in the middle of the green pine trees were growing in intensity. Thin mist started to rise from the top of the three monks’ heads. The spectators knew the mist came from the perspiration on the monks’ foreheads, which was turned into vapor by the heat generated from the exertion of their internal energy. It was clear that these five people had reached the stage of all out internal energy battle. Thin mist also appeared on top of Zhang Wuji’s head. But the mist rose like a long, thin straight line; it did not disperse like regular steam. Obviously, his internal energy cultivation was very deep, deeper than the three monks’. Just the previous day the crowd of heroes saw that he had received a severe injury. Who would have thought that he completely recovered in only one night? The depth of his internal energy really amazed others.

Zhou Zhiruo, on the other hand, did not dare to engage the three monks in direct confrontation; she only wandered outside the circle. As soon as the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan revealed a crack in their defense line, she would jump in the opportunity. But as one of the whips intercepted her, her graceful figure would lithely turn back to evade. Because of this, the difference in martial art cultivation between Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo became apparent to the spectators. Many among the crowd of heroes could not restrain from voicing their opinions in whispers.

“For the last several years there is a rumor in the Wulin world that the Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill is without equal. Sure enough, his reputation in well-deserved. Apparently, he was deliberately yielding to this Mrs. Song yesterday. It is called a gentleman who will not fight a woman.”

“What do you mean a gentleman will not fight a woman? Don’t you know Mrs. Song was about to become Zhang Jiaozhu’s wife? It is called ‘old ruler’s affection is deep’!” [Translator’s note: I know it sounds weird in English, but perhaps someone will explain this saying for us?]

“Pei! It is ‘old sword’s affection is deep’, not ‘old ruler’s affection is deep’!”

“Don’t you see those two iron rulers in Zhang Jiaozhu’s hands?”

“After that, Mrs. Song did not have a heart to kill Zhang Jiaozhu with a vicious blow. Won’t it be ‘the old hand’s affection is deep’?”

Meanwhile, the stances launched by the three monks and Zhang Wuji were getting slower; the changes were also getting more subtle.

Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art skill grew at a fantastical rate; her victory over Wudang’s Second Hero was the peak of her achievement. However, speaking about internal energy cultivation, compared to Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting, she actually fell far behind. This moment, Zhang Wuji’s battle with the three Shaolin monks had reached an all-out, real-skill stage; there was no leeway for a shortcut, no opening for Zhou Zhiruo to attack. Now and then her flexible whip would sweep and strike forward, but as soon as it bumped into the four people’s internal energy, it would bounce back immediately.

Less than an hour later, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside Zhang Wuji’s body flowed out rapidly. The Sheng Huo Ling in his hands created ‘swish, swish, swish’ noise. Originally, the three monks’ countenances were different from each other, but at this time their faces were dark red, their Buddhist robes bubbled up as if they were blown by a strong gale. On the other hand, there were not any visible changes in Zhang Wuji’s clothes. His superiority had been established by this fact alone. If he fought them one-on-one, or even one-on-two, he would have scored a victory early on.

Zhang Wuji’s cultivation of Jiu Yang Zhen Qi was immeasurably deep to begin with. After receiving instructions from Zhang Sanfeng, he further developed his ‘chi’ with cultivation technique of Taijiquan. Right now, the longer he fought, the stronger he was. He would win an endurance race, since he could fight an all-out battle for one or two ‘sichen’ [1 sichen = 2 hours] more, waiting for the opponents to exhaust their own strength.

The three Shaolin also realized that a prolonged battle would be detrimental to their side. Suddenly they let out a high-pitched shout together. Three long whips rotated rapidly, the whips turned into blur shadows that it was difficult to see which one was real and which one was a mere shadow.

Zhang Wuji focused his gaze on the incoming whip; he blocked them one by one, while anxiety started to grow in his heart. “Although Zhiruo’s martial art is marvelous, her days of training were, after all, not too many. Our joint power cannot be compared to [maternal] grandfather and Yang Zuo Zhi. I can’t do it based on my strength alone. It looks like we are going to be defeated again today. If I can’t save Yifu this time, what do I do?” As his heart was anxious, his internal energy was somewhat reduced. The three monks seized this opportunity to press on; their attacks grew more dangerous, surrounding Zhang Wuji from all sides.

Suddenly, like a flash of lightning a thought came into Zhang Wuji’s mind. He recalled Xie Xun’s affection toward him when he was little on the Bing Huo [ice and fire] Island. He also remembered although Xie Xun was blind, he braved the danger by re-entering the Jianghu, all because of him. If he could not save him today, he definitely did not want to live alone.

He saw that Du Nan’s long whip was threatening his back. Disregarding his own safety, his left hand reached up to let the whip strike his arm, but he dissipated the incoming force using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. The Sheng Huo Ling tablet in his right hand blocked the pair of whips of Du E and Du Jie. Like a giant bird he suddenly pounced to the left, but his body turned around midair and suddenly he grabbed Du Nan’s long whip, and wound it once around the trunk of the green pine tree in which Du Nan was sitting.

This maneuver was truly unthinkable; Zhang Wuji raised his left arm, pulled the whip and wound it around the tree trunk. Du Nan was greatly shocked; he hastilypulled back. Zhang Wuji’s change of movements were amazingly fast; he also pulled the rope to counter Du Nan’s force. Although the bough of the pine tree was thick, almost half of it had already scooped out hollow by the three monks to protect them from the wind and the rain. This time, a very tough and durable long rope wound around it, and Zhang Wuji and Du Nan’s internal energy pulled it at the same time, a loud crashing sound was heard as the pine tree broke right at the hollow part, with the top portion of the tree came crashing down from the sky.

Seizing the opportunity when Du E and Du Jie, two monks were still stunned by this turn of events, Zhang Wuji struck with both palms, with a loud shout he pushed the pine tree where Du E was sitting. In this strike he put the entire life-long cultivated strength into his palms. The pine tree could not stand and snapped off at once.

The two broken pine trees, along with their branches and leaves, fell down on the tree where Du Jie was sitting. These two trees carried the momentum of several thousand catties. Zhang Wuji flew up and landed on the third tree. His feet pushed down and the tree broke. It swayed in the air and slowly fell down. The noise of the broken trees intermingled with the cry and shouts of the crowd of heroes.

Zhang Wuji threw the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands toward Du E and Du Jie. The two monks were busy dodging the falling trees, and now they had to deal with the incoming Sheng Huo Ling tablets; the movements of their hands and feet became chaotic. Zhang Wuji bent his knees and rolled underneath the falling trees, which had not reached the ground yet. He had entered the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’s center. Using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique, his palms pushed and turned, and the boulder covering the dungeon was shoved open.

“Yifu, come out, quick!” he called out. Afraid that Xie Xun was unwilling to come out, without waiting for a reply, Zhang Wuji put one hand down the hole and grabbed the back of Xie Xun’s collar and lifted him up.

Right this moment, Du E and Du Jie’s whips arrived. Zhang Wuji was forced to let Xie Xun down. He took out two more Sheng Huo Ling tablets from his bosom and threw the tablets toward the two monks. Quick as lighting his hands grabbed the tips of the whips. Du E and Du Jie were about to exert their internal energy to pull the whips back, but the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets had already arrived in front of their faces with speed that did not give them any leeway. The two monks did not have any choice but let their whips go as they hastily jumped back. It was the only way they could evade the Sheng Huo Ling attack.

In the meantime, Du Nan’s left palm was threatening Zhang Wuji’s chest. “Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji called out, “Stop him!” Slanting his body sideways to evade, he carried Xie Xun in his arms. As soon as he managed to get Xie Xun out of the three pine trees encirclement, Shaolin Pai would not have anything to say.

“Humph,” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, but she hesitated, while Du Nan’s right palm followed his left. Zhang Wuji turned his body around to avoid the vital acupoint on his back from being hit, letting the palm to land on his shoulder instead.

Carrying Xie Xun, Zhang Wuji wanted to break out from the pine trees. “Child Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “In all my life I have committed grave sins. In this place I am listening to the scripture about repentance, my heart is at peace. Why do you insist on taking me out?” While saying that, he tried to struggle free.

Zhang Wuji knew Yifu’s martial art skill was very high; if he stubbornly refused to go, he could be very difficult to be dealt with. “Yifu,” he said, “Please forgive Child’s offense!” The five fingers of his right hand moved lightning fast, sealing several acupoints on Xie Xun’s thigh, chest and abdomen, rendering Xie Xun immobile temporarily.

Because of this slight delay, the palms of the three Shaolin monks had struck by. “Leave him!” they barked.

Zhang Wuji was aware that the palms of these three monks had surrounded him from all directions. Before the palms arrived, the wind generated by these palms had already pressing him. He had no other choice but put Xie Xun down on the ground, and then lifted his palms to block.

“Zhiruo,” he called out, “Quickly take Yifu out!” His palms shook, forming a circle, and he sent his palm strengths to engage the palms of the three monks so that none of them could leave to stop Zhou Zhiruo. It was the highest technique of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; his palms moved randomly, making it hard to tell which one was real, holding the three monks’ palm strengths together like glue.

Zhou Zhiruo leaped into the circle toward Xie Xun. “Pei!” Xie Xun spat, “Lowly woman …”

Zhou Zhiruo reached out and sealed his mute acupoint. “Surnamed Xie,” she scolded, “I have come to rescue you with good intentions. Why do you insult me? Your crimes have reached the heavens; your life is hanging by the thread in my hand. Do you think I cannot kill you?” While saying that, she raised her right hand with her five fingers forming a claw, ready to strike the top of Xie Xun’s head.

Zhang Wuji was very anxious to see this. “Zhiruo, no …!” he hastily said.

At this moment, he was engaged in a stake-it-all battle with the three monks, in which everybody was exerting the internal energy cultivation of their entire life. The three monks did not have any intention to kill him, but in this kind of battle, they had reached the critical moment; where either they injured the enemy, or they themselves would perish. There was simply no room for either side to yield to the opponent.

As Zhang Wuji opened his mouth, his ‘chi’ was decreased slightly. The three monks’ ‘topple-the-mountain-and-overturn-the-sea’ kind of palm strength immediately surged in. Zhang Wuji had no choice but increase his own strength in defense. Both sides were in a stalemate situation. Their strengths were interlocking each other. They had to continue until victory or defeat was decided, without any chance to escape midway.

Zhou Zhiruo’s claw was hung midair, but she did not continue her strike. Casting a cold sidelong glance toward Zhang Wuji she said with a cold laugh, “Zhang Wuji, when you abandoned me during the wedding ceremony in Haozhou that day, did you ever imagine there will be a day like today?”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was divided into three parts: he was anxious over Xie Xun’s safety, he was angry that she chose this critical moment to settle an old score, and he was busy fending off the three monks’ palm strength, which was flooding in towards him. Even if he was completely focused, he would most likely still lose in the end. Much less now that his mind was in confusion, he was facing a more imminent catastrophe. Cold beads of sweat were forming on his forehead, streaming down to his chest and back, soaking his clothes.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, Shuo Bude, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the others were all shocked to see this critical situation. They all had the same thought, namely, they wanted to save Zhang Wuji. Even if they had to lose their lives in the process, they would not regret it. However, they all realized that their own strength was inadequate. Not only they could not break the fight, even if they did attack the Shaolin three monks, the three monks would easily divert the external force toward Zhang Wuji, adding to the force he had to withstand. In the end, instead of helping him, they would harm him.

Raising his voice, Kong Zhi called out, “Three Shishu [martial (younger) uncle], Zhang Jiaozhu has shown kindness to our Sect; please be lenient to him.”

But the battle between these four people had reached the stage where they could not back off. Zhang Wuji had never had any intention to harm the three monks. The three monks remembered Zhang Wuji had helped them out of trouble the other day, they were also waiting for an opportunity to stop the battle. Only, both sides were in the ‘qi hu nan xia’ [riding a tiger, hard to get off] predicament. The spirituality of the three monks had transcended the material world. It was not that they turned a deaf ear to Kong Zhi’s cry; they did want to acknowledge him, but they were unable to do so.

Wei Yixiao’s shadow flashed by. Like a floating blue smoke, he slipped into the middle of the broken pine trees. He wanted to pounce on Zhou Zhiruo, but he saw Zhou Zhiruo’s right hand was still suspended in the air. If he pounced on her, her claw would certainly strike down on top of Xie Xun’s head. If Xie Xun died, Zhang Wuji’s heart would be greatly grieved and he would die immediately under the three monks’ hands. Thereupon, when Wei Yixiao was less than a ‘zhang’ away from Zhou Zhiruo, he halted his steps in hesitation and did not dare to make a further move.

That moment, everybody on the peak looked like a statue; nobody dared to neither move nor make any noise. Suddenly Zhou Dian laughed and strode forward.

Yang Xiao was startled. “Dian Xiong,” he shouted, “Don’t be reckless.”

Zhou Dian ignored him; he walked toward the three Shaolin monks and with a smiling face said, “Three great monks, do you eat dog meat?” Reaching into his pocket, he produced a boiled dog leg and waved it in front of Du E’s face.

These past two days, Shaolin Temple only served vegetarian dishes to its guests. Zhou Dian loved to drink wine and eat meat; how could he stand eating green vegetables and tofu every day? He went out the previous night to steal a dog and cooked it. After eating his fill, he still had a dog leg, which in this critical moment he used to disturb the Shaolin three monks’ concentration.

As soon as they saw it, Yang Xiao and the others were delighted; they thought, “Zhou Dian usually acts like a lunatic, but this time his move is brilliant.” They knew that in an internal energy battle, the key was the combatant’s concentration. As Zhou Dian stepped forward to create trouble, even if only one of the monks got angry, his concentration might be broken and Zhang Wuji would be victorious.

The three monks turned a blind eye to him; they completely ignored Zhou Dian. Zhou Dian took the dog leg to his open mouth and took a bite. “Smells good, tastes good!” he said, “Three great monks, why don’t you take a bite?” Seeing the monks did not even blink, he brought the dog leg closer to Du E’s mouth.

As he was about to shove the dog leg into Du E’s mouth, several monks watching from the side shouted, “Baldy Dian, back off quickly!”

As soon as the dog leg touched Du E’s lips, suddenly Zhou Dian’s arm shook, half of his body turned numb. ‘Bang!’ the dog leg fell to the ground.

Turned out at this moment Du E’s entire body was covered with his internal energy that he was in the ‘fly cannot penetrate’ realm. As soon as his four limbs and hundreds of bones met with an external force, the force would bounce back.

“Aiyo! Aiyo! Terrible, terrible!” Zhou Dian cried out, “You don’t want to eat my dog meat, that’s all right. Why did you have to snap it out to the ground? Now it is dirty and wasted. I want compensation, I want compensation!” His hands and feet were flailing all over the place; he raised a clamor.

Unexpectedly, the three monks’ concentration was so deep that they were not disturbed by any external demonic influence. Zhou Dian flipped his right hand and fished a short blade from his bosom. “Since you don’t appreciate my kindness by eating my dog leg, Laozi [old man – referring to self] will risk everything to fight you.” His blade slashed his own face that immediately he was dripping with blood.

The crowd of heroes shouted in shock. Zhou Dian used the short blade to make another slash. His face was covered with blood; he looked terrifyingly fearsome. Regardless of who saw this kind of scene, their hearts would be shocked and disturbed. But in their deep concentration, the Shaolin three monks’ eyes, ears, nose and tongue seemed to be closed to the world outside. Not only they did not see the scene Zhou Dian was making, they even seemed unaware of his presence, which was very closed to their bodies.

“Good monk,” Zhou Dian loudly called out, “If you don’t compensate my dog leg, I’ll die in front of you!” Lifting his short blade, he thrust it into his own heart. Because his Cult Leader was in such a dire situation, he was determined to kill himself to disturb the concentration of the three monks.

Suddenly a yellow shadow flashed by; someone flew in and snatched the short blade away from his hand. The yellow shadow then continued sideways, with five fingers striking toward the top of Zhou Zhiruo’s head. The technique used was exactly the same as the one Song Qingshu used to kill the Beggar Clan’s elders. Zhou Zhiruo’s five fingers were less than a foot away from Xie Xun’s head, but the enemy’s movement was simply too fast; she had no alternative but to turn her hand over to block this attack.

Zhang Wuji’s internal energy level was very strong; it was not inferior to the combined energy of the three monks. However, in terms of ‘forgetting everything’, his meditation skill fell short. He could not reach the stage of ‘looking without seeing, hearing without listening’ of the outside influence. Seeing that Zhou Zhiruo’s hand was threatening Xie Xun, his mind was immediately thrown into confusion. He also saw Zhou Dian stepping forward to create trouble, and then drawing his blade to commit suicide. He saw everything clearly and was even more anxious.

Currently, his internal breathing was boiling, he was about to spurt out some blood and perish. To suddenly see that woman in yellow gown leaping forward into the circle, snatching the short blade from Zhou Dian’s hand, and attacking Zhou Zhiruo, Zhang Wuji knew that Xie Xun was out of danger. His heart was delighted and his internal energy was growing so that he was able to neutralize the three monks’ internal energy attacks one by one. As a result, now the four of them were back into the stalemate situation.

Although Du E and the others were not affected by outside disturbance, they were able to differentiate the subtle decrease and increase of either side’s strength. They realized the sudden increase of the opponent force, but the force did not change from defensive to offensive; which was precisely the best opportunity to withdraw without endangering either side. The three monks’ minds were interlinked; they concurrently reduced their own power. Zhang Wuji followed by reducing his own power one notch. The three monks then reduced their power another notch. By ‘you reduce one notch, I reduce one notch’, in a short time both sides had withdrew their power completely.

Four men laughed together and stood up at the same time. Zhang Wuji cupped his hands and bowed low. Du E, Du Jie and Du Nan also clasped their palms to return the propriety. Almost together they said, “My utmost admiration!”

Zhang Wuji turned his head and saw that lady in yellow had already fought Zhou Zhiruo. The lady in yellow was barehanded, while Zhou Zhiruo still had the whip in her right hand and the dagger in her left, yet the lady in yellow did not show the least sign of defeat. The lady in yellow’s martial art seemed to have the same source as Zhou Zhiruo’s. They both moved swiftly with seemingly infinite variations, yet her hands and feet looked upright without any sign of demonical influence. If Zhou Zhiruo moved like a ghost, then the lady in yellow moved like an immortal.

Zhang Wuji took a second look and knew that the lady in yellow would certainly win without any chance of defeat, and that his Yifu was completely out of danger. But he had a feeling that the lady in yellow was tantalizing Zhou Zhiruo; it seemed like she was trying to find out the ins and outs of Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art. She would have had flattened Zhou Zhiruo early on if she took the fight seriously.

“Shanzai, shanzai!” Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, although you cannot defeat us three brothers, we three brothers also cannot defeat you. Xie Juzhi [warrior Xie], you are free to go!” Having said that, he stepped forward and unsealed Xie Xun’s acupoints, while saying, “Xie Juzhi, lay down your saber and follow the teachings of Buddha. The gateway to our Buddha is wide open, there is no one in this world who cannot be brought to cross over. You and I have spent many days together on this peak. That is also destiny.”

Xie Xun stood up and said, “Merciful Buddha. The three Dashi [reverend, grandmaster] have shown the direction to the bright road. Xie Xun cannot thank you enough.”

Suddenly they heard the lady in yellow shouted in clear voice. She flipped her left hand to grab Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip, followed by her elbow striking the acupoint on her chest. Her right hand opened up, her five fingers were hanging on top of Zhou Zhiruo’s head.

“Do you want to taste the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’ [nine yin white bone claw]?” she asked. Zhou Zhiruo was unable to move; she closed her eyes, waiting for death.

Although Xie Xun’s eyes could not see anything, he could hear clearly what had been going on around him. He stepped forward and bowed with cupped hands while saying, “Miss has saved this father and son’s lives. We feel greatly indebted. There will come a day when this Miss Zhou will meet her just retribution, if she does not repent from her unrighteous ways. I am asking earnestly that Miss would spare her life today.”

The lady in yellow said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang turned from your ways really quickly.” Her shadow swayed as she withdrew.

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